appliances

Love hate relationship, right?  Love the convenience of them, but do they really have to be soooo big?  And soooo shiny?  And soooo noticeably incongruous?  They just aren’t making cooking spaces out of brick anymore – no one has time to stoke a fire and heat up a bake oven before dinner.  So we’re stuck with them.  And they are one of the biggest obstacles to incorporating 18th century atmosphere into the context of a colonial kitchen.  We either have to overwhelm them – or hide them.  Or, like any sensitive old house owner, we have to sacrifice.  Double ovens may be at the top of our wish list, but if there’s no room for them in the design, they’re out.  A double refrigerator may be second on the list, but again, no room, then down to the basement with a second one, or the freezer, or it’s out.  I’ve lived with a single 30” stove/oven combination for thirty years – ten without a broiler – and I’ve managed as many Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and thousands of meals just fine.  (Did I say thousands?  We must eat out more.)

If you have a large kitchen, then there’s a good chance you can overwhelm them.  Small kitchen?  Sacrifice.  It’s worth it – for the other ninety percent of the time when you just want to enjoy the charms of the old house.  That’s why we bought it, after all – to escape from modernity!  To feel like we’re still an integral part of that peaceful, simpler time.

Bring as much of the fabric of the original house – materials and design – into your kitchen.  If your house is early with raised panel doors, beams in the ceiling, wainscoting on the walls – bring it in!  Use similar color finishes, plaster the walls, or add texture to the paint.  Use natural surfaces for counters – wood or soapstone.  Build in the fridge, and cover it.  Cover the dishwasher to match.  But whatever you do, don’t bring preconceived notions from the last house, especially if it was a condo or builder’s colonial, or from a magazine on “new” kitchens, to the antique house.  You don’t have to have double ovens, and please don’t put a microwave above the stove or cook top.  Finishes don’t have to be “sprayed” on, joints don’t have to be blended to oblivion – it should look hand made for heaven’s sake!  When production cabinetry adjoins a hand crafted antique room, the contrast is evident and the result is sterile.

I prefer hand made, hand rubbed, and hand damaged.  My wood counters have burn and water marks, and my door casings have tricycle damage.  It all sands out for the most part, and a new coat of oil or paint is a quick fix.  I like living in a real house.

Immerse yourself in the atmosphere of your old house.  Note all aspects of it from the moulding around a doorway to the size of a bead, from the depth of a raised panel to the size of the baseboard.  If you copy the originals, and incorporate them sensitively into the fabric of the “new” room, with an eye toward proportion and balance – you can’t go wrong.

And think outside the box.  If your old refrigerator sticks out too far, and the new shallow one isn’t in the budget, find a way to build it into the wall, or steal space from the room behind it.  Our own fridge was a typical two door with an ice maker in front.  We covered the whole darn thing with wood, screwed the panels right into those metal doors.  It was a cheap fridge, no big loss if it didn’t work. We put a ledge on top, painted the bottom grate to match, added wooden handles and, voila, it looks like a cupboard.

The microwave, if one must have one, can sit in a built-in on the counter, covered by a door. It can be built into the side of an island where it’s less conspicuous, or better yet, if you’re fortunate to have such a space – put in the pantry.

There is a stove that I think is a terrific fit for an old kitchen – the AGA cooker.  Its size shape and porcelain finishes of many colors can be blended into the cabinetry perfectly.  It’s a whole new way of cooking though.  Invented by a man whose wife burned everything she cooked, it’s supposed to be carefree and easy.  It has two to four cook plates (depending on the size you buy), one for boiling and one for simmering, and then there are two or three ovens – for roasting, baking and warming.  The cooker is always on so it warms the room – great for winter, not so great for summer.  They do offer a gas or electric insert for the cooktop to use if you decide to shut it down for the summer.  But that leaves you without an oven.  One of our customers considered buying an Advantium which is a small microwave/convection oven that could be put in the pantry for summer use.

I did find an alternative to the AGA, one I actually prefer, at least from the photo and love the color – the Esse.  There is one distributor in the USA and not many of these around.  I’m guessing AGA was here first, with better marketing, and since there’s not a whole lot of demand for these unconventional cookers, the one with the best marketing wins.  I do hope to replace my stove with this Esse – someday!

Happy cooking!

colonial kitchens

The most important room in a house, is arguably, the kitchen.  Not only to satisfy the building inspector who won’t let us live without one anymore, but to satisfy our own creative appetites.  We want them to be special, ample, with lots of storage and modern conveniences.  Because we love the old, we want them to be traditional and charming, as personal and unique as we are.  The trick today is to incorporate all of the new conventions into the old house.  The early builder could never have foreseen the evolution of the modern appliance!  The ten foot wide hearth, with its iron pots and utensils, and large brick bake oven, was more than ample for the early homeowner’s needs.

Needless to say, the huge old hearth is not for cooking anymore.   We’ve long since forgotten how to cook over the open fire, or how long to keep an arm in the oven to gauge temperature.  We use electricity or gas rather than wood for cooking, and dials rather than arms for setting temperatures.  While they used open shelving, and an occasional cupboard for storage, today we crave lots of cabinetry to house all of our “stuff.”  blueCab

We want a designated cabinet to house the mixer, or an “appliance lift” to make it easy on our backs; a space to hide the coffee maker, or the microwave, behind a custom retractable door; a slide out trash compartment, with bins for separating trash and recyclables; a tray cabinet beside the stove; a drawer with compartments for cutlery and knives; a drawer for spices; shelves that glide out of the cabinet for easy access to pots and pans;  “lazy susans” to take up that wasted space that occurs in corners where two cabinets meet.  Added to all of this is a stove – often in two parts, or three – a cooktop and one or two separate ovens; a refrigerator which is often way too deep; a dishwasher, and sundry other appliances.  All are usually in stainless steel, and all combine to create an enormous challenge in trying to capture the atmosphere of 18th century living!

kitchens_display

That old hearth is a place for reflection now, a place to consider how far we’ve come and how far we want to go.  The new kitchen can be incorporated subtly into the old keeping room, or preferably, in a wing off the house entirely.  It can be designed using all of the same ingredients of the old house –wood floors, perhaps beamed ceilings, crown mouldings, raised panel doors, iron hardware.  Putting them tastefully together, thinking like the early craftsman, copying his craftsmanship, even using some of his tools, helps us to achieve the look that works seamlessly with the original house.

new old Buttery The end result should be a room that will feel, when you walk into it, like a logical continuation of the old, or at the very least, part of the natural evolution of the earlier house.

Henry Francis Dupont said of his design at Winterthur, that no one thing should stand out when you enter a room, essentially, everything should carry its own weight.  That is true about kitchens as well – so good luck with the refrigerator!  And the stove, and the ovens!  Well, we’ve dealt with these for many years.  While they are challenging, they are not impossible.  It is never a perfect solution, but a pretty good one.  We do live in the 21st century after all, another evolution in design, which is not always kind to the 18th century.  We certainly don’t want to use chrome and glass or melamine and formica.  Well, we don’t want a lot of things.

litner_kitchen2 But what we do want are classical designs using the same elements that attracted us to the house in the first place.  The natural elements that keep us grounded, that remind us we are of the earth and want to remain in touch with it.

Clay, wood, plaster, stone, glass, and a few variations on those themes, as close to what is found in original colonial homes, will keep any new room in tune with the old.  Wood cabinets, plaster walls, brick or stone fireplaces and hearths, material selection is of utmost importance, as is the proportion and balance of design.  (I overuse that term, but it is everything!)  We are in a constant struggle between fitting in what the customer wants and what the house will not be overwhelmed by.  We don’t want to walk into the kitchen and have it scream at us –“I am a kitchen, and the most important room in your house!”

Shaker style kitchen cabinetry It should be a pleasant, useful space, whose cabinetry and woodwork do not overwhelm with over-design.  It is easy for a homeowner to be seduced by the array of cabinetry and gadgets on display in a kitchen showroom.  From the simpler Shaker style to European extravagance, a homeowner can be overwhelmed and end up “picking” a style they like right there on the floor, rather than one that works seamlessly within the context of their own home.

We purchase a home because we love its style, and recognize its possibilities.  That’s important to remember, and stick to, when choosing a kitchen design.  Custom design is worth it, to know that the cabinetry will be designed specifically for our working space needs, and fit seamlessly into our style of home.  Nothing will stand out.  The cabinetry and woodwork will feel like it was always there, contributing to, rather than distracting from, the charm of the colonial home.